Evan Nison is hardly what you'd call an early riser.
Nison, a 26-year-old hailing from East Brunswick, NJ, typically works into the am hours — and usually sleeps in well past the neighborhood milk deliveries, the stifling morning rush hour traffic and even the networks' gawking morning shows.
But on Thursday, Nison woke up at an hour most Americans would consider early. He was in New York City to attend a taping of ABC's “Good Morning America,” where he knew he might have the opportunity to ask Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a question about an issue that has come to define his life — marijuana legalization.
“I knew that I was a high-priority question,” Nison told The Cannabist on Thursday, “so I knew I might be able to talk with her.”
Nison is a rising star in the legal cannabis industry.
While he first became passionate about marijuana issues as a student at Ithaca College, he's now the owner of Nison & Co., a weed-centric public relations firm with an ever-growing clientele, and a board member for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).
Perhaps most noteworthy, Nison is also co-founder, board member and chief financial officer at Whoopi & Maya, the lady-centric marijuana company founded by actress Whoopi Goldberg and California-based edibles maker Maya Elisabeth.
As it turns out, Nison was able to pose a question to Clinton on “GMA” on Thursday: “I wanna know if marijuana legalization was on the ballot in your state, if you'd vote yes or no?”
Clinton didn't give Nison the most direct answer. But that he was even able to present that question to the woman who will most likely become the democratic presidential nominee is pretty cool.
The Cannabist caught up with Nison on Thursday to talk about Clinton's response to his question — and how he hoped she might have answered it differently.
The Cannabist: So you were just talking with Hillary Clinton a few hours ago. How did that “Good Morning America” opportunity come about?
Evan Nison: I have a friend who works with the Young Democrats of America, a major democrat organization, and she had said there was an opportunity to ask Hillary a question. I asked her if I could submit my name. (Legalization activist) Tom Angell helped me come up with the question, I submitted the question, and I got chosen.
Cannabist: If you have one opportunity to talk with the woman who might be our next president, you clearly want to make the most out of it. What did you and Tom consider when coming up with that exact wording of the question?
Nison: I wanted to make sure it was something that would be interesting enough to get picked and also pointed and hopefully drive some new information from her. We came up with that original question of how would you vote if it was on your state's ballot? And then I put myself in her position and thought, 'If I was Hillary, what would I say?' I thought she might say that it would depend on the language, which she did, so I had the backup question in my head. I was thinking about prodding her even further: 'Would that mean you wouldn't have voted at all because you weren't enthusiastic about it?' Then I thought I'd let it be. She's probably going to be the next president of the United States.
Cannabist: Were you happy with her answer?
Nison: I would have liked her to say that she'd support legalization if it came up on her ballot, but she did make a strong indication that she supports medical marijuana philosophically. But I don't think Schedule 2 is enough. I left continuing to think that Bernie Sanders is better on marijuana legalization, which he is. But my assumption is that she knows she'll be supporting marijuana legalization in a few years. She's likely working on getting herself up to the point she can evolve on the issue.
Cannabist: Did you expect her to answer any differently?
Nison: I felt like going into this morning I was giving her an opportunity to start rallying some youth support behind her as they're transitioning from Bernie. I think she's going to wind up winning the primary, so I felt like I was giving her the opportunity to start that process — but she didn't take me up on it.
Cannabist: When did you first find yourself interested in cannabis and legalization issues?
Nison: In my freshman year of college I was reading Wikipedia and I saw that local towns in New Jersey have ballot initiatives, which (as you know because you're in Colorado) are ways for people to write laws and put them on the ballot and have the public vote on them.
At the time, many didn't know what ballot initiatives were, and the local city I lived in didn't know they were possible. So I started working on an initiative to make marijuana one of the lower priorities for law enforcement in East and New Brunswick. We got illegally rejected in New Brunswick.
But later I started a Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter at Ithaca and at my first SSDP conference I met the campaign manager for Prop 19. And then I moved out to California to help Prop 19, which I thought was just going to be the summer but I ended up taking off the semester to help run Prop 19 and their college outreach.
I moved back to New York after Prop 19 narrowly failed, and I kept working on medical marijuana issues. I also pushed a 911 Good Samaritan law, which turned into a law and allowed people to call 911 during drug and alcohol overdoses. We found a senate sponsor and educated members in both houses.
Cannabist: What's your own history with cannabis?
Nison: I was drug tested in my junior high, even though not everybody in my class was tested. I tested negative. They suspected me for being intoxicated because I was not feeling well. I was just 15 or 16.
Cannabist: And when did you first get high?
Nison: I was in the Netherlands visiting my sister. Not in a coffeeshop, just outside on a bench. I think I was in high school.
Cannabist: What about the marijuana industry excites you right now?
Nison: It's really about trying to build the best industry we can, and not just from a profitability standpoint. We're creating a brand new industry we know is going to be a large industry, and it's an amazing opportunity for us as advocates. That it's created by people who care about social purposes gives us a great opportunity to create an industry that we will be proud of.
Cannabist: And what about your free time — what are you doing when you're not working or advocating?
Nison: I don't have too much free time nowadays, between advocacy and the businesses now. That takes up pretty much all of my time. But I also travel a lot for work, so it's hard for me to distinguish between work and play. On one hand, I'm always working, and on the other hand, I'm never working. It's hard to distinguish between work and personal life anymore.